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Americas Now 11/05/2012 No

11-05-2012 11:04 BJT

By CCTV correspondent Brian Byrnes

The highly-lauded Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal chose to star in the Chilean film "No" because he thinks the events depicted in it are as important now as they were when they happened a quarter-century ago.

"(The events were) not only a landmark for Chilean life nowadays, but also for the entire world”, he says. “Because it was the first time that a dictator was overthrown with democratic means".

The democratic means was a referendum vote called by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988 in response to growing displeasure with his regime both at home and abroad. A "Yes" vote supported the strongman -- a "No" vote would send him packing.

Rather than attack the tyrant - who was accused of human rights abuses -- the opposition chose to wage a positive campaign that focused on the potential in Chile's future.

Garcia Bernal plays Rene Saavedra, a brash young ad man who helps create the colorful logo, upbeat jingles and peppy TV spots that ultimately made the 'No' campaign a success. It was a style of political marketing that had never existed in the region before. He explained:

"This was the first time in Latin America that it was tried out, in 1988. It was the beginning of doing a campaign, and actually they came, and they succeeded without the structural support. They were the antagonists of the story. They were working with something that was a negative, which was a 'No' rather than a 'Yes.'”

On September 11, 1973, Gen. Augusto Pinochet led a violent coup that left then-president Salvador Allende dead and swept Pinochet into power. The Pinochet dictatorship ruled unrivaled for 15 years, until 1988 when the referendum depicted in the film 'No' eventually drove him to abdicate his power. Even now, 24 years after that historic vote, the legacy of the Pinochet era continues to loom large over Chilean society.

Pinochet's regime tortured and murdered thousands of Chileans, yet he retained wide support.Director Pablo Larrain says he wanted to examine his country's recent past, and accurately portray just how divisive the referendum vote was at the time:

“'Yes' got almost 43 percent, which is a lot. Today I would say that most people wouldn't vote that (way) again. Because we knew what happened, (we knew) who these people really were, and after the referendum, when democracy came back, and we began to open the files and saw exactly what happened. I think Pinochet is considered today by most people as someone who is really a bastard, and not someone you want to (be) close (to him)."

Garcia Bernal's character is a composite of two men: Eugenio Garcia and Jose Manuel Salcedo. Garcia had studied philosophy, but was working in advertising when he was recruited as the campaign's creative director.

"During the Pinochet government, most intellectuals were forced to look for a different line of work”, explains Garcia. “A lot of us ended up in publicity. And that is how this talented group of people came together to work on the campaign. Of course, we were all opposed to Pinochet."

Salcedo was an actor who often had to perform underground for fear of military harassment. He spent hours with Garcia Bernal to help the actor understand the often-dangerous conditions in which they had worked during the 'No' movement.

"We knew perfectly well that in that moment we had the opportunity to defeat a dictatorship by pacific means, with a vote, with a pencil and paper”, said Salcedo, now an old man, but still full of vigor.“This was extraordinarily important for everything that happened after that, until now. So it was a historic opportunity, for us, for the country, for the people of Chile."

'No' received critical acclaim at the Cannes film festival, which led to several international distribution deals. The attention meant that anticipation for the film in Chile was extraordinarily high.

At the Santiago premiere in late July, three of Chile's ex-presidents were in attendance, including 93-year-old Patricio Aylwin, the man who succeeded Pinochet.
The night before the premiere, producers scheduled a private screening for university students, who themselves have been making world headlines recently.

Over the past two years students in Chile have staged noisy, often violent, protests demanding reforms to the country's education system - a system that has been in place since the Pinochet era. The 'No' filmmakers and the students themselves say they see some parallels between today's calls for change and those depicted in the film.

24-year-old art student Paula Gonzalez was born the same year as the Pinochet referendum.

"Half of my family voted 'Yes' and half voted 'No'”, she explains. “At that time it was a fight between family and friends. Everyone had their own point of view. Some suffered. Some didn't care. And some benefitted from the coup."

The movie meshes actual archive footage from 1988 with new dramatic scenes shot on rebuilt U-Matic cameras imported from the United States. The low-quality image purposely blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, old and new.

As a Mexican actor appearing in a Chilean film dealing with a highly-sensitive historical topic, Garcia-Bernal says he knew his performance would be scrutinized. But, he feels this is a story to which many Latin Americans like himself can relate.

“In a way, my upbringing wasn't so alienated to what happened here”, he says. “I grew up in Mexico and in 1988 and there was a big fraud in the elections. The first time I voted was the first time that another party other than the PRI won in Mexico City. And the first in my generation was the first time that the PRI was out of power in Mexico. I also want to exercise my freedom all the time. I want to speak out and be part of this. If there is a sense of apprehension and somebody warns me about it…I want to do it even more!"

The result is a performance and a film that will likely continue to get accolades as it is seen around the world, educating new generations about Chile's bloody past, and the brilliant tactics used to usher in its brighter future.

Editor:James |Source: CCTV.com

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